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Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Manse Restaurant, North Adelaide with Stephanie Alexander



"The garden," Stephanie Alexander explains, "is a magical place."

On our recent trip to Adelaide for Tasting Australia, Billy and I find ourselves at The Manse for a Petit Degustation with Stephanie Alexander.



We'd walked past The Manse at first. Tucked away in a leafy side street in north Adelaide, Billy and I have to double-back when we realise we should have turned left a block before.

The Manse is housed in a former mansion, a beautiful old building that sits amongst a carpet of fallen autumn leaves. We follow the narrow path up to the small and darkened doorway. It's opened by a smiling waitress who quickly leads us to our own table, a room that's one part austere to two parts baroque. Gilt-edged mirrors, Italian chandeliers and a backdrop of black patterned wallpaper add colour and dramatics.

Halfway through lunch, Stephanie takes the microphone and tells the assembled diners about the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Foundation, an initiative set up to provide pleasurable food education in government primary schools.



It's one thing to read about the success of the Kitchen Garden Foundation. It's quite another to see its founder speaking with fervour and heartfelt passion about what the program means not just to her, but to the school kids that get involved each year.

The Kitchen Garden Foundation is the only school-based gardening program that is fully integrated into the learning curriculum. It involves primary school children tending a productive organic fruit and vegetable garden, one that is not a small patch, but measuring a sizeable 800 square metres.

A homestyle kitchen is where kids learn how to cook the fruits and vegetables they have grown. The kids -- in primary school years three to six -- spend 45 minutes in the garden and 1.5 hours in the kitchen every week.

Lessons are taught by specialists, not teachers, but accompanied by teachers and volunteers. The success of the program has been phenomenal. There are currently 45 participating schools in Victoria and 88 across Australia, a total of 18,000 kids per week. By 2012 it is hoped that 250 schools will be involved in the program, a total of 30,000 kids per week.


Pamplie French butter

There is no shortage of schools wanting to be involved, but the issue, as always, is funding. The $60,000 government grant to schools can be used for infrastructure only, and not toward the two part-time specialists. The salaries for the part-time gardener and cook will cost schools about $50,000 per year.

Successful schools put their heads together and find creative ways to raise funds. It requires a committed principal, a convinced school council and a supportive community, Stephanie says.

The children are encouraged to design their own gardens, and often beds are in the shape of circles or stars with winding paths between them. The children are encouraged to see the garden as a place of observation, investigation and discovery, as well as a source of food.

The reward is significant. The children plant, grow, make pasta, cook lunch and learn how to share meals and enjoy with friends. Parents in particular comment that their children's behaviour changes, as they become more interested in cooking and shopping.

Stephanie even relates how one mother said she came home one day saying she was too tired to cook dinner, to which her son replied, "Don't worry, I'll whip something up, Mum."


Sunflower seed with leek soil and Meredith chevre
paired with 2005 Chandon Blanc de Blanc, Yarra Valley

In hindsight, then, it seems appropriate, that our first course has been designed to resemble a small garden pot, a sunflower seed mousse that is scattered with leek soil and two carefully placed microgreens that look to be sprouting forth.

The leek soil tastes of toast crumbs, a pleasing sense of crunch against the smoothness of the mousse. Hidden at the bottom is a large chunk of Meredith chevre, perhaps a little too big as by the time you reach it, there is nothing left to temper its distictive sharpness.

I'd already finished my entire bread roll, the accompanying pat of Pamplie butter so smooth and creamy I practically put slices of it onto my bread.


Whipped foie gras with almond, tarragon and grape
paired with 2007 Simmonet-Febvre Chablis, France

Our second course is another beautifully plated dish, a trail of quenelles and foams scattered with almond crumbs and carefully placed micro leaves. The whipped foie gras is so light and airy it dissolves on the tongue. The presence of foam seem a little outdated but the cloud of cucumber does refresh the palate.


Pink snapper with noodle, cabbage consomme and cashew nut
paired with 2000 Will Taylor Semillon, Hunter Valley, NSW

Pink snapper arrives with a fitting pink background, a pink sticky syrup painted on the plate.


The pink snapper plate before the pouring of soup

The pink snapper initially arrives without the soup, a second waiter follows not long behind with a pitcher of warm consomme. The tableside pouring adds a lovely sense of theatrics and attentiveness.


Pouring on the cabbage consomme


Broken glass noodles on the Jasper Conran spoon

The snapper is firm, if a touch overdone, but we relish the sweetness of the cabbage consomme. The glass noodles are pretty but their short lengths make them difficult to retrieve with both the shallow bowl and the elegant Jasper Conran spoon. I manage to finish all my noodles and the soup regardless - where there's a will, there's a way!


Rangers Valley grade 5 sirloin and brisket with onion, peanut and radish
paired with 2008 Syrahmi Maelstrom Shiraz, Heathcote, VIC

Our final savoury dish is an interesting mix of components. A square of grade 5 sirloin is juicy but both Billy and I refer the plaque of brisket even more, pan-fried to a delightfully fatty crisp. Onion cups are a clever idea although I think the peanut sauce inside them tends to overwhelm the flavour of the beef. A tumble of toasted rice and barley add nuttiness and texture, thin slivers of radish add bite.


Lemon mousse with meringue, honeycomb and
lemon gelato with fizzy pink lemonade

Dessert is a substitution from the original menu. It had been a busy week for The Manse who had catered for the Lifestyle FOOD Channel Australian Regional Competition two nights before, as well as a media dinner at Sparrow Kitchen. We'd attended both and noticed similarities in the menu and plating.

The Manse had also swept the awards at the Regional Competition, winning best entree, best main, best dessert and best region in a day-long cook off featuring teams of two chefs and one apprentice. It was the first time one restaurant had won all three courses, and host Joanna Savill reassured the gathered assembly that the blind judging for each coures was done by three distinct and non-conferring panels.

We're disappointed we don't get a chance to try the planned dessert of "chocolate textures, liquorice, blueberries, honeycomb" but find solace in the lemon, passionfruit and raspbery tribute. The lemon mousse is light, the splinters of honeycomb are sweet and the pink lemonade sprinkles pop and crackle on the tongue.

Grab Your Fork dined at The Manse as a guest of South Australia Tourism.

>> Read the next South Australia 2010 post
(Enoteca Restaurant with Antonio Carluccio)

< Read the first South Australia 2010 post
(lunch with Maggie Beer and Rosemary Shrager)




View Larger Map
Manse on Urbanspoon

The Manse
142 Tynte Street, North Adelaide
Adelaide, South Australia
Tel: +61 (08) 8267 4636


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
South Australia - Adelaide Central Market
South Australia - Enoteca Restaurant, Adelaide with Antonio Carluccio
South Australia - Maggie Beer's Farm Shop with Rosemary Shrager + Maggie Beer

16 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 5/27/2010 01:54:00 am


16 Comments:

  • At 5/27/2010 8:32 am, Blogger Gourmet Chick said…

    I love Stephanie Alexander - lucky you getting to meet her - I carted her Kitchen Companion over to London and it is my real kitchen bible!

     
  • At 5/27/2010 9:08 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    It's so inspiring that she's so passionate about the kids.

    Looks like a great dinner, especially love the PINK snapper! But that's probably just me being drawn to the colour pink hehe.

     
  • At 5/27/2010 9:36 am, Anonymous delicieux said…

    I love The Manse. I was lucky enough to dine there on a recent trip to Adelaide which gave my boyfriend T his first taste of a degustation menu (it won't be his last). I'm disappointed we didn't remember to take better photos of the food we had (I only had my iPhone with me so the photos weren't the best).

    Your photos are fabulous. It looks like a great dinner. I definitely can't wait to go back.

     
  • At 5/27/2010 9:44 am, Blogger Hannah said…

    Oh wow. Oh wow wow wow. That entire menu is just so gorgeous!

    Hmmm, I wonder if my high school had had a kitchen garden, whether we would have cooked something more inventive that marshmallow brownies in cooking class? Still, those brownies were sticky goooood :P

     
  • At 5/27/2010 10:22 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Mmmmm. Give me Jalan Alor anyday, plastic plates and all!

    Stan

     
  • At 5/27/2010 11:23 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    :) Stephanie Alexander <3 <3 The Kitchen Garden Foundation sounds like such a great program. The snapper dish looks lovely, pity it was a touch overdone. My eyes were immediately drawn to it, love the colour of the consomme!

     
  • At 5/27/2010 12:03 pm, Blogger bowb said…

    such beautiful food! the lemon dessert looks like something i could eat every day.

     
  • At 5/27/2010 1:19 pm, Anonymous Tina said…

    That dessert looks simple yet fab!

     
  • At 5/27/2010 1:53 pm, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    The whole experience was bit daunting only ourselves to blame for rocking up in tshirt and jeans while others are suited...

    yeah was bit disappointed that we didn't get to try the initial dessert as planned. The substitute wasn't too bad either!

    More puff rice? more cigar? HAHA

     
  • At 5/27/2010 2:41 pm, Anonymous Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    Oh wow, everything looks gorgeous! Stephanie Alexander is amazing, the work she is doing with the foundation is so great :)

     
  • At 5/27/2010 7:21 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    Is it wrong that I look at the Pamplie butter with envy

     
  • At 5/28/2010 5:33 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    I didn't know that the school kitchen gardens had expert cooks and gardeners. It would definitely enhance the experience for the children. Must say I do love the pink plating of the snapper - kitsch in all the right ways ;P

     
  • At 5/28/2010 8:44 pm, Blogger Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    OMG! Stephanie Alexander is my idol! What a fantastic experience and her program is such a great investment for the future cooks of Australia! Great write up Helen!

     
  • At 5/29/2010 10:52 pm, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    wow stephanie alexander is great! so lucky that u got to meet her. the cabbage consumme looks totally awesome! That mesmerising pink soup is nothing ive seen before

     
  • At 6/08/2010 9:33 pm, Blogger safford said…

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

     
  • At 9/14/2010 5:52 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Thanks for your comments everyone!

    Gourmet Chick - Wow, that's impressive. I love my Kitchen Companion too but trucking it over to London is awesome.

    Angie - The snapper broth was an amazing colour!

    delicieux - Yep, nothing like capturing your meal in photos :) I think you do notice things more.

    Hannah - But there's nothing wrong with marshmallow brownies! lol

    Stan - Variety is the spice of life, I say.

    Stephcookie - The Kitchen Garden Foundation is very inspiring. I hope that its influence spreads to the next generation and beyond.

    bowb - I could think of worse things, for sure :)

    billy - It's all about how you carry yourself! lol.

    Mark - Not. At. All.

     

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